Read This: Stoner by John Williams


“In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.” ― John Edward Williams, Stoner

The three novels written by John Williams should be required reading for everyone. Stoner is the one I read first and perhaps for that reason, still love best. It is the life story of a young man sent to college to learn new farming techniques; instead, he falls in love with literature and becomes a professor. He has a disappointing marriage and a beloved daughter who is turned against him.

He watches young men sent off to two world wars, grows old, lives into his profession. This story is not about revealing plot but character. Williams observes the minutiae of Stoner’s life with a poet’s eye and is able to make even the simplest gestures express so much.

This book is wonderfully written. If you think a book with a sparse plot about a literature professor’s life sounds boring, let me assure you it is anything but that. In his keen observation, Williams reveals truths about the human spirit and our role in the universe that stay with me like a rock in my shoe, provoking me to reconsider its ideas just when I think they’ve finally been tossed loose.

“It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” -Roger Ebert

As Ebert indicates, a movie (or book) about any subject, no matter how fascinating it sounds on the surface, can be crushingly dull if not done well. Likewise, a film (or book) about even the most ordinary daily routines can be transcendent in the right hands.

Fortunately for us, the life of William Stoner teaches us vivid truths about the human condition through a novel with a plot that would not be described as ‘exciting’. Don’t let that stop you; the prose of John Williams is often breathtaking and will stay with you long after that last page is turned.

Stoner is written in the most plainspoken of styles….Its hero is an obscure academic who endures a series of personal and professional agonies. Yet the novel is utterly riveting, and for one simple reason: because the author, John Williams, treats his characters with such tender and ruthless honesty that we cannot help but love them.
— Steve Almond, Tin House

Additional reading about Stoner:

TL;DR: Stoner by John Williams is an astonishing masterpiece that should be read by everyone.


Steak ‘n Shake


From Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert: 

Steak ‘n Shake is a fast food chain, the first except probably for White Castle. Certainly it’s the best. How many fast food chains bring you a glass of water and silverware, and serve you on china? Friends in Los Angeles took me to In-N-Out Burger, and I consumed a mushy mess on a soft bun and shook my head sadly. The very names of the two chains describe the difference in styles of sexual intercourse between California and the Heartland.

Some days I think that last sentence is the finest sentence I’ve ever read.